Wellington Scoop

After three days of sewage spilling into harbour, old pipeline is used to reduce overflow

Photo from Wellington Water

At midday today, Wellington Water reported that crews working overnight have managed to divert some of the overflowing sewage into an old pipeline. “This means we are able to significantly reduce overflow into the harbour. However, we can’t say for sure the overflow has stopped.” Today was the third day that sewage was continuing to spill into Wellington Harbour because of Friday’s collapse of an old wastewater tunnel under the CBD.

The council-owned water company repeated its request for people to stay out of the water in the rāhui area (from Kaiwharawhara to Point Halswell). It said harbour water quality testing will continue, though it hasn’t yet released any test results. It also tweeted: “We are continuing to work through options to ensure we can completely stop the overflow as soon as possible.”

Earlier, Wellington Water said it had cleaned out an old decommissioned pipe beneath Willis Street, with the hope of using it to divert “at least some of the flow” back into the network. And last night it reported:

Before we can do that we need to CCTV it to make sure that it’s not damaged. All going well, we will gradually increase the flow through the pipe, enough to stop the overflows. Stopping the overflow of wastewater into the harbour is our first priority and once we have achieved this then there are some longer term solutions to be considered.

We have sucker trucks on 24 hour rotation pumping wastewater out of the pump stations at a rate of 40,000 litres an hour.

The Regional Council and the Port helped us monitor the harbour waters. Our teams will continue working overnight and tomorrow to capture anything left by the changing tides. More signs have been put up advising people that it is not safe to swim, and our teams have been speaking to people along the waterfront enforcing that message.

RNZ reported this morning:

Wellington Water’s chief executive Colin Crampton said not as much waste had gone into the harbour as expected, and it was expected to lessen as people moved away for Christmas. “We were predicting maybe up to 100 litres a second of wastewater going into the harbour, today we think it’s more like 50. So that’s really good that combination of people using less water and maybe not as many people living in the zone has really helped us.

“We estimate that about an Olympic sized swimming pool of wastewater is going into the harbour every 24 hours.”

He said the discharge was unlikely to be visible. “The one thing we are worried about is because the pump stations aren’t running, the wastewater that comes out can be full of, you know, uncomfortable things.”

Crampton told RNZ it was hard to know what caused the collapse of the 1.3 metre high tunnel, but they would also check other parts of the system where similar vulnerabilities could be. He said fixing the collapsed tunnel would be complex.

“What we were trying to do was dig down to find out what was going on properly and fix it, so we had to go down. We thought we’d stabilised it that night and overnight it ended up collapsing further. It’s tricky now because what we don’t want is any of that material washing into the main tunnel; if we had any trouble there, it would make the problem way, way worse.”

RNZ photo

Wellington.Scoop – December 21
After yesterday’s calamitous collapse of an old wastewater tunnel under the CBD, Wellington Water crews worked through the night to try and divert the sewage. But without success – the major spillage of sewage continued to flow into the harbour for a second day, and CBD road closures also continued.

RNZ reported it’s possible people won’t be able to safely swim in parts of the harbour until next year, because of the sewage spill.

Up to five million litres of wastewater and sewage is continuing to drain into the harbour every 24 hours.

RNZ quoted Wellington Water chief wastewater advisor Steve Hutchison as saying it is not known how the break happened or how long it will take to fix. Staff are working shifts to put in a temporary fix and after that they will start on a permanent solution.

Workers trying to stop the sewage spill in the CBD – RNZ photo

“We’re working on three fronts at the moment to clear an old decommissioned pipeline to get the wastewater flow up back up and flowing through that as a temporary diversion,” Mr Hutchison said. “And also looking at ways we can get the flows in this catchment … across to neighbouring catchments to get the flow back to Moa Point and get it treated.”

NZTA announced tonight that because of the water emergency, Vivian Street will be closed between Victoria Street and Marion from 8pm till 8am for the next eight nights, starting tonight, to allow “further investigation.”

Wellington.Scoop – December 20
A major discharge of sewage into Wellington Harbour began this morning, after the collapse of an old tunnel that is part of the wastewater network under the CBD. The wastewater is entering the harbour near the dive platform and Whairepo lagoon near Te Papa.

Wellington Water has mobilised all its temporary systems to try and contain the wastewater but it says they will not be enough.

“Regrettably wastewater will enter the harbour at Frank Kitts Park/Taranaki Dive Platform by our emergency overflow point. At this stage it is unknown how long this will last for, or the volumes of wastewater that will be discharged. We are working to try to divert the flows through other parts of the network.”

Wellington Water staff are advising residents and businesses how they can help by saving water to reduce the wastewater flows.

Earlier News from Wellington Water
A wastewater tunnel has collapsed in the Wellington CBD. As a result, the central city’s sewage is discharging into the harbour.

We anticipate the overflow will continue over the next few days. We urge the public to stay out of the harbour between the Port and Point Jerningham, avoiding any splash zones near the waterfront. This includes no fishing or collecting shellfish.

Signs are in place along the waterfront and people are asked not to swim or play in the water anywhere in the harbour.


At 2pm today, Taranaki Whānui placed a rāhui at the discharge.

We ask all inner city residents and office workers to minimise their use of water, to reduce the load on the network and the size of the overflow.

The collapsed tunnel, beneath Willis and Dixon Streets in the CBD, was being prepared for repairs.

Crews at the Dixon Street site are continuing to investigate the collapse. Ghuznee Street is closed between Willis and Victoria Streets so our contractors can pump. Please avoid the area and use an alternate route.

Definition from Wellington Water
Wastewater and sewage are the same thing – dirty water from homes and businesses that is sent to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment. It’s a mixture of water and human waste.
Sewers (or wastewater pipes) are the pipes in the street that transport the wastewater to the treatment plant.
The sewerage system refers to the network of pipes that carry wastewater to the treatment plant.

News from Metlink
Due to emergency roadworks on upper Willis Street, Routes 7, 18e, 21, and 25, services will be diverted until further notice. Due to heavy traffic flows – please expect delays to all services in the Wellington CBD.

The following bus stops are closed to all services:

7909 – Ghuznee Street at Cuba Street
6909 – Ghuznee Street at Cuba Street (opposite)
6908 – Ghuznee Street at Victoria Street
7908 – Ghuznee Street at Willis Street
6906 – The Terrace at Salamanca Road

The following bus stops are closed to Route 18e and 21 ONLY:

7910 – Taranaki Street at Courtenay Place (near 72)
6910 – Taranaki Street at Courtenay Place
6906 – The Terrace at Salamanca Road

Services Affected:
18e Miramar – Newtown – Kelburn – Karori
21 Karori (Wrights Hill) – Kelburn – Courtenay Place

Harbour unsafe for swimming, again


  1. Colin Scumbagguer, 20. December 2019, 9:41

    Wellington Water were unsuccessfully digging for a water leak in that location for over a month? I note WW told us at one point it was just a “water leak”. So they have just created a bigger problem and have not solved the actual one.

  2. michael, 20. December 2019, 10:51

    I guess we can expect more of the same as more and more apartments are built to add further strain on the already failing infrastructure which has taken a back seat to “important” WCC vanity projects.

  3. Corrina Connor, 20. December 2019, 11:35

    The drainage infrastructure in this city is terrible. Too old, can’t cope with increasing pressure. Now the harbour is being polluted. This seems more pressing for the WgtnCC than a second tunnel. [via twitter]

  4. RNZ, 20. December 2019, 11:58

    Wellington Water chief executive Colin Crampton said it was not yet possible to say how soon the problem could be fixed, but it was likely that raw sewage would continue to be emptied into the harbour for several days.

  5. Catlin Makery, 20. December 2019, 12:35

    This is what the Council meant when they said Lets Get Wellington Moving?
    Get all the excrement flowing rapidly through to the ocean after they couldn’t schedule the buses or make them reliable.

  6. Dave B, 20. December 2019, 12:49

    They’ll have to go through the motions before they can fix this.

  7. TrevorH, 20. December 2019, 13:12

    $150 million for a white elephant convention centre while basic, essential infrastructure collapses and pollutes our beautiful harbour? Fiddling while Rome burns doesn’t come close. At least Nero had a plan an was simply undertaking slum clearance in his own eccentric way.

  8. Dave Armstrong, 20. December 2019, 16:39

    We should forget about things like drains and sewerage – let’s focus on attracting more tourists to the city with convention centres, runway extensions and indoor stadiums. Discuss.

  9. Hel, 20. December 2019, 17:58

    Dave, the real issues are more about a bloated inefficient Council that has been raiding its infrastructure budgets for years to disguise this. The executive team doesn’t even have a city engineer, the operational leadership has been dumbed down by career bureaucrats from outside Wellington who have zero passion for the city.

  10. Katy, 20. December 2019, 18:32

    It’s saddening how ineffective and inefficient the people who look after our infrastructure have become.

  11. Morris Oxford, 20. December 2019, 19:28

    The main effort, Dave, needs to be made by the business community. It must be directed at getting residential ratepayers to stump up for all the benefits you mention. Agree.

  12. Careprost, 21. December 2019, 0:20

    We should forget things like drainage and sewerage – let’s concentrate on bringing more visitors to the city with convention centers, extensions of runways and indoor stadiums. Talk about it.

  13. Alf the Aspirational Apterxy, 21. December 2019, 6:29

    There’s no way I’m going to take a dip at Oriental bay or catch a fish off the wharf while this problem persists. I don’t need a rahui to dissuade me from doing so.

  14. Dave, 21. December 2019, 7:06

    Convention centre is wasting millions – now we have filth in the harbour that they are trying to draw everyone to … Infrastructure more important than what they are spending on now.

  15. Helene Ritchie, 21. December 2019, 7:53

    Who are Wellington Water these days and how do they relate to WCC and the elected councillors and officials? Which councillor(s) has responsibility for this essential infrastructure. Does the CEO have any/much accountability? Is their accountability as a CCO only through a letter of expectation and the odd appearance at a committee meeting to tell the Council all is fine? Do they know where all the underground utiliities are placed in the CBD? Is there a map we could see? Where is the asset management programme and priorities, and how has it been monitored – by whom? Where is the risk profile? How is the increased CBD “load” from a hugely increased apartment, tourist and cruise ship population added to an extended (or not) sewerage system? Is the Regional Council going to carry out its legislated responsibilities here?

    Then there’s Fran Wilde’s “Lifeline” setup wanting to save us from an earthquake with a cross harbour pipeline when the feeder system is broken, and it seems we can’t save us from ourselves yet? What resources are being diverted there and with what accountability? Seems we might need a major enquiry into all of this and a reprioritised programme and funding big time?. After all, this is why we have local government – to provide essential public services to the community.

  16. Dave Armstrong, 21. December 2019, 8:30

    I take it all back guys, I’m now totally in favour of spending millions on a second (sewerage) tunnel.

  17. Keith Flinders, 21. December 2019, 9:42

    Wellington Water are an arm of the Wellington Regional Council, as far as I am aware, and it appears that we have an ever greater problem festering with inadequate maintenance, and replacement, of aging sewage systems.

    Three years ago I visited the Karori sewage treatment facility and was dismayed to see the iron on the screen room roof had numerous holes in it where the sewage gases had eaten away at the iron. “it doesn’t matter” said the WCC who own the facility “as the machinery in there is designed to get wet at times.” They ignored the point that the rest of the structure was being impacted by the leaks, thus shortening its life span. The operation of this facility is contracted out to a private company who might be more interested in their bottom line profit than anything else, and who rebuked me for raising my concerns with the WCC.

    What this region needs is an old style city engineer to be continually monitoring the age and condition of all ratepayer-owned infrastructure, not accountants and academics only concerned about cost.

    I await Dave Armstrong’s coined word for the brown alert affecting the harbour, and am sure it will be as clever as bustastrophe visited upon us by the same organisation.

    [Wellington Water is jointly owned by the Regional Council, the four city councils, and the Wairarapa District Council. A Lower Hutt city councillor chairs its owners’ committee, with the mayor of Upper Hutt as his deputy. But it does not own the infrastructure, so responsibility for the failed tunnel must be accepted by the Wellington city council and regional council. ]

  18. Local, 21. December 2019, 10:56

    A big part of the Wellington Water operation is contracted to a French company Veola.
    It is so pleasing that the reelected/appointed Chair of Wellington Water David Bassett finds it enjoyable and says it must be “nimble”. Really? What does he do? Is he paid on top of his Council salary?
    How does the Regional Council carry out its statutory responsibilities to protect the environment when it is apparently part owner of the polluter?? Chinese walls?

  19. Marie Jeffries, 21. December 2019, 11:21

    It’s a stunning still day at Oriental Bay. Sadly some people don’t know about or understand the rahui and are paddling and swimming at the main beach. Perhaps WgtnWater and WgtnCC need better signage. It’s cold today but tomorrow there’ll be lots of people expecting to swim. [via twitter]

  20. Conor, 21. December 2019, 11:32

    Four drains to the planes.

  21. Ben, 21. December 2019, 12:09

    No need for an oil tanker to get stranded on Oriental Parade, we have the sewage network. Have we heard from Andy Foster yet? [via twitter]

  22. Ms Green, 21. December 2019, 14:11

    So David Bassett chairs the Water Committee made up of councillors from various councils. Then there’s a Board made up of various important directors. Then there are the City Councillors and the Regional Councillors. Then there’s the staff for all these organisations and all the Chief Executives. Of course there’s also Veolia in France – with its staff and Boards contracted to help us for $170m for ten years. Do any of this vast number of people know how to ensure that Wellington’s aging, broken sewerage system is prioritised, or are they just clipping the ratepayer ticket?

  23. Aroha, 21. December 2019, 14:26

    Are the Council trying to make this sound PC or Ok by using the Maori word Rahui? When it’s not banning usage of the area due to resources for conservation purposes. They should use “tūtae contamination” or Merry Christmas “no swimming or fishing faeces contamination “.

  24. Little Blue Penguin, 21. December 2019, 14:58

    As Aroha has pointed out, the Council and their WW are trying to spin this environmental disaster by using a sign in Maori (with the wrong meaning) to make the destruction of a large sewer pipe and ocean contamination something PC.

  25. Philip Brown, 21. December 2019, 16:39

    Stop eating and help the crisis.

  26. Dave Hartnell, 21. December 2019, 17:15

    Yes Wellington Water is a JV owned by several councils in the wellington region and yes the infrastructure remains owned by the respective councils (mainly to ensure their balance sheet remains strong by keeping these assets on the books). However Wellington Water is responsible for operating and maintaining that infrastructure on the councils’ behalf. I think they have failed in that respect. If it can be shown that they clearly warned of a failure and the council ignored that, then it’s a council failure. There is a lot of old infrastructure out there… I think this will occur more and more often.

  27. michael, 21. December 2019, 17:40

    According to their website, Wellington Water’s role “is to manage the drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services of our council owners”. To this end, they have “200 full time employees”, and they “represent the largest body of expertise in water infrastructure services management in New Zealand”. Yeah right!!

  28. Manny, 21. December 2019, 18:07

    This is not a leak from old infrastructure. It’s WW looking for a “water leak” for a month and then not finding it and breaking the sewer tunnel .

  29. Farmer Bill, 22. December 2019, 2:48

    At least farmers can’t be blamed as it’s all townie crap this time.

  30. Curtis Nixon, 22. December 2019, 10:56

    Email I sent to WCC today:
    “Dear Mayor Foster and Councillors –
    My friends and I observed a large slick of dis-coloured water coming out of Wellington Harbour into Breaker Bay yesterday. We were standing on the high ground at Oruaiti Reserve. We thought this was probably a product of the sewer leak from the Wellington CBD. We saw the slick partly coming into Breaker Bay and dis-colouring the water there, while the main part seemed to be following the coastline, and moving in the direction of Lyall Bay. Although I was wearing my swimming shorts and wanted to swim, there was no way I was going swimming in that water.
    I am concerned that Wellington Water is downplaying the extent of the sewerage leak going into the harbour in the CBD, and that it is affecting all the swimming beaches in Wellington harbour and on the south coast. I hope that there is extensive testing of these beaches’ water in case my theory is right.”

  31. Dutch boy, 22. December 2019, 13:13

    Colin Crampton obviously can’t count. 50 liters per second is 4.3 million liters per day. An Olympic sized swimming pool is approx 2.5 million liters. so the bottom end of his estimate of a swimming pool per day is about half of what it really is and at 100 liters a minute it is closer to 3.5 swimming pools.

    Let’s not forget that Wellington Water caused this mess in the first place and that their record of sorting out water leaks is abysmal with many of their mains around the city leaking like a sieve due to “cheap” joints.

  32. Andrew, 22. December 2019, 13:26

    Curtis, the Hutt river has been quite high and when running brown after heavy rain, you see a distinct boundary between blue and brown across the harbour. Could this have been what you saw? Either way I would not have been swimming.

  33. GillyB, 23. December 2019, 13:46

    “The executive team doesn’t even have a city engineer”

    My father was one of those Hel. Went the same way as dodos and dinosaurs, to save a few lousy bob. Back when councils had ‘works’ departments and engineers on the permanent staff, the proper maintenance/upgrade of vital infrastructure was prioritised.

    I know because I saw the inside of way too many man-holes/pumping stations and outfalls in my childhood years, courtesy of dad’s “Sunday drives”. Health and safety-free of course, being the 1970s! 🙂

  34. Russel C., 23. December 2019, 16:12

    Time we brought back the Town Clerk and ditched the overpaid Chief Executive, which would enable us to afford two city engineers with no increase in rates.